My name is Katheryn Wabegijig. I am a 37 year old Ojibway/Odawa multi-disciplinary artist, custom picture framer and emerging writer who grew up in the small mining town of Elliot Lake, Ontario with ancestry in Wikwemikong, Atikameksheng Anishnawbek and belonging to Garden River First Nation/Ketegaunseebee. I graduated from Cambrian College’s 4 year Fine Arts program in 2003 and in 2016 with a BFA from OCAD University majoring in Drawing and Painting and minoring in Indigenous Visual Culture where I furthered my cultural education and continued on my path towards Decolonization through cathartic personal explorations.
It is not difficult to see why OCAD University is the leading academic institution of choice for Indigenous students pursuing Art and Design post-secondary education and I would like to share with you some of my experiences here at OCAD and in the INVC program. I believe that Indigenous students in communities across Turtle Island have a great opportunity to excel as artists and designers through the various programs that are offered here and the amount of support offered to students. I also believe that it is vital to go directly to those communities, engage those wishing to further their arts education and inspire their choice to be OCAD University.
I, myself, entered OCAD University as a second year transfer student and mature student after 10 years of focusing on my custom picture framing career. I graduated from Cambrian College where I took their 4 year Fine Arts program in 2003 but always had the dream of attending OCAD. I had to make a choice between my career and furthering my education and so, I told myself, “If I get accepted into OCAD University this time, I’m going!” The professors, staff and fellow artists here made my experience at OCAD University the very best decision of my life and I wish I had had the courage to take the step earlier. It was the best decision that I have ever made for myself as an artist and as an individual. I took Drawing and Painting as my major. I felt that I absolutely needed to take the Indigenous Visual Culture program because it was vital to my learning as an Anishinaabe artist who is continually searching for my place in each of the communities that I have grown up within.
Not only did I achieve my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with an INVC minor but I had the opportunity to witness and learn from amazing Indigenous artists and staff at INVC who profoundly changed and supported my art practice. OCAD U and INVC made it possible for me to delve into my art by working through personal and cultural issues in a safe and supportive environment. In fact, my artwork that was featured in the culminating Grad Ex show for the graduating class was purchased by the Royal Ontario Museum! So, the opportunities here at OCAD University are truly countless, with exhibition opportunities that are attended by some of the most influential people in the art industry.
Also, students will find that throughout their time here that they will continually be surrounded by those influential presences. To be able to hear Janet Rogers recite and perform her powerful pieces of writing, to share in the knowledge of respected Elders and artists like Duke Redbird, to go on a tour of the ROM led by Bonnie Devine (the founding Chair of INVC) speaking on her masterpieces or to be lucky enough to be taught by her or Ryan Rice, an amazing Curator and the Chair of INVC, is undoubtedly an honour and only to be experienced here at Canada’s oldest and largest art, design and new media university.
The INVC Student Centre creates many community building events and activities including Buffalo Stew lunches held every Wednesday, Bead and Read which brings together readings from amazing authors while learning new beading techniques. The Mighty Pen, a writing group held for Indigenous students and students of colour began in my final year at OCAD U. I had the privilege of being involved with the very first group. What stemmed from that was a reconnection to my love for writing that led to my first published piece this year. My mentor from that group was and still is an amazing support. These groups, staff and spaces offer a welcoming gathering place to share experience, grow as artists and make friends that will last well beyond your OCAD University experience! Organized trips that I was able to attend were The McMichael Gallery and the Petroglyphs in Peterborough, which had an incredible impact on my art practice. That list is ever expanding, connecting students in this amazing program to culturally significant and life-altering experiences in Toronto and surrounding areas.
The way that I was able to delve into my art by working through personal and cultural issues in a safe and supportive environment allowed me to come to many realizations and revelations that carry with me in my professional career as an artist and now as the Indigenous Student Recruiter.